“Taut, fraught entertainments . . . every bit the equal of what Hollywood was crafting.”—The Village Voice
Fortune-telling con artists, murderous widows, alluring temptresses, and men who imagine themselves to be matadors, until they discover they’re the bulls: welcome to the world of the Mexican cine negro, or film noir, which takes the icy cool of the Hollywood noir and turns up the heat. Filmed mostly during the Miguel Alemán Valdés presidency (1946–52), a time of enormous industrialization and sudden wealth creation, Mexico’s noirs reflect a surface world of progress and luxury, but haunted by primeval lusts and uncontrollable passion. Indeed, it’s not money or power that fuels these films, but mad love, with scripts flavored as liberally with Rimbaud or Dostoevsky as Chandler or Hammett. “What does desire mean to you?” one character asks; “a force that ends up destroying you,” is the reply.
Enter a world of fedoras and ball gowns, murderers and saps, doomed love and forbidden obsession.
Rather than returning veterans (the staple of many a US noir), its heroes are typically suave, forward-thinking, modern men whose talk of enlightenment runs aground once they fall into an abyss of obsession. Rather than scheming, ice-cold femme fatales, the heroines here do not lure the men into that abyss, but join them willingly. The noir look, however, remains the same, with cinematographers like Gabriel Figueroa and the Canadian-born Alex Phillips as comfortable in the chiaroscuro realms of darkness and light as Hollywood artists like John Alton or Nicholas Musuraca.
Join us for this small sampling of Mexico’s film noir, especially selected from Filmoteca UNAM's collection, and enter a world of fedoras and ball gowns, murderers and saps, doomed love and forbidden obsession.
Jason Sanders, Film Notes Writer